Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been a hot topic in the philanthropic community, but how do foundations and corporations leverage their resources to alleviate social justice issues? There is still no silver bullet when it comes to widespread social change, but during my time at this year’s EPIP National Conference 2016 I was exposed to bold strategies which we can further develop to empower our upcoming and emerging leaders to tackle issues with deeper impact. (Note: EPIP is the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, a project of Tides Center, and is a national network of foundation professionals, social entrepreneurs and other change makers who strive for excellence in the practice of philanthropy.)
The conference was held in Baltimore, which is most famous for the first Washington Monument and the birth place of the national anthem. Baltimore is also the site of recent civil unrest due to the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, and the acquittal of the police officer involved. Tensions are high in the city and surrounding areas, which made it a prime location for first-hand learning experiences for those seeking to affect change in their own communities. For the past year, the nation has eagerly watched the Baltimore community to see how it will react to these challenges and, for conference goers in particular, how philanthropic practitioners can get involved. I was able to sum up a couple key takeaways from the conference that we can apply in different communities.
During the conference, attendees were challenged to define or describe the meaning of equity. As we started to explore the seemingly endless variety of definitions, we came to the quick realization that there is no one universal definition for social equity. “The first step in addressing equity is by taking a step back and defining what it means to your community”, states Dion Cartwright, Program Officer at the Baltimore Community Foundation. Being able to distinguish what an equitable societal structure looks like will allow communities to develop a tailored approach. There are many distinct paths and frameworks to addressing injustice but to start by visualizing objectives can bring clarity in achieving community goals. Like speaker Sampriti Ganguli, CEO of Arabella Advisors, tactfully described, “philanthropic organizations must know that equity is the end goal but diversity and inclusion provide the approaches to get there.”
Internal Culture Change
An interesting perspective that I gained from the conference was the need for foundations to examine their own organizations to better alleviate external, long term battles. A way to change internal culture is by hiring and developing diverse staff to help shape the way we are looking at issues. A more diverse philanthropic community will mean that leaders will have an empathetic approach to solving tough issues. One theme that was found in many breakout sessions was that leadership is a state of mind not a title. Foundations should help develop pipelines for individuals who are already embedded in social change. Giving internal or organizational power to those individuals who experience injustices will have an effect on the way that we address community issues. Finally, as the conference wrapped up, there was a call to action for leadership and staff to be more representative of the populations in which they serve.
Throughout the three day conference, we learned that DEI is more than an initiative for foundations to add to their giving strategies, but a movement for philanthropy to be more intentional in the way that we are assisting our communities. Some issues have been around for generations, and some have been propelled to center stage across the country. The philanthropy sector is charged with better understanding issues through a lens of the impact on local communities, before looking to ignite national social change. In addition, the philanthropic community should assess the ways we are giving. Seeking innovative and diverse grantmaking strategies should be pursued. Supporting community organizing and advocacy, or exploring new grant models through organizations such as Youth as Resources, are some examples of this approach from the conference. Overall, the EPIP National Conference 2016 was able to lay the ground work for organizations to start the tough conversations internally. It will be interesting to see how the sector responds to our many challenges and whether we see a change in the way philanthropy looks, both as a practice and appearance.
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